Alexander Ullman was born in London in 1991. Among his teachers he studied with Leon Fleisher at Philadelphia´s Curtis Institute and with Elisso Virsaladze at Fiesole, near Florence, both great pianists. He won several prizes, especially Budapest´s Liszt Competition (2011). His burgeoning career includes not only recitals but also presentations with orchestra and chamber music with the Dover Quartet.
Last Wednesday he made his Buenos Aires debut with an all-Chopin programme for the Mozarteum´s Midday Concerts at the Gran Rex. The concentration on one composer has its drawbacks for as audience member you can´t ascertain if the artist is versatile, but if you can offer quality Chopin you are certainly a pianist to be reckoned with, for no other composer has written with such an ideal blend of the Romantic piano´s technical demands and deep musical substance.
Of course, not all his works are of the highest level, but if the choice is intelligent and balanced and the artist responds to the various moods, an hour with Chopin can be delectable. Most of the time, it was so with Ullman. Two generalities: he has responded admirably to his training and his mechanism is outstandingly clean and precise; his taste is impeccable and he plays soberly, with no divo gestures.
The Gran Rex is huge and its acoustics unfortunately are dim and matte; even pianists with big guns fail to impact there. I was relatively close, but even so there was a deficit in roundness of tone and decibels. And I believe that even in much better acoustics, Ullman doesn´t go hell for leather: it isn´t his temperament.
But he has great qualities: he has mastered the art of rubato, essential in Chopin. Willi Apel on rubato: "a certain elasticity and flexibility of tempo consisting of slight accelerandos and ritardandos which alternate according to the requirements of the musical expression". Also, he understands the radical changes of mood that characterise this creator and knows how to stress the harmonic innovations that are often startling.
He began with that enigmatic piece, the "Polonaise-Fantaisie", which starts slowly and dreamily; then comes the Polonaise, stately and far from the vigor of others, but later on complicates textures a lot. Ullman was too slow and meditative, and although beautifully played I wasn´t quite convinced. Then came the Nocturne Op.27 Nº1, in which the advanced chromaticism of the first section contrasts with the fast turbulence of the central element, and it was here that Ullman showed his mettle.
This was even more evident in the tough Second Scherzo, where there was plenty of character in the pianist´s playing, solving the virtuoso hurdles admirably but also having the cantabile for the slow middle melody, sensitively expressed. And that ability was shown to the full in the exquisite Berceuse. By then Ullman had shown he is a talented Chopin interpreter.
The complex multisectional Fourth Ballad, one of the richest masterpieces of the Polish creator, was further proof of Ullman´s empathy with his music, giving the exact sense of each fragment but building its wholeness as well. A brilliant execution of the sprightly Etude Op.10 Nº5 was the encore, rounding off a fine experience. Tall and personable, the pianist should have an important career.
For Buenos Aires Herald